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Ending market wrangles

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When people, long used to being taken for a ride, decide to stand firm on a decision they believe in, it becomes more difficult to satisfy their aspirations, feelings and hopes than it is to eat humble pie.

More than anywhere else, this is applicable in Local Government, where, despite decentralisation being lauded as the next big thing in Malawi, vendors and government officials have been tussling over newly constructed market structures.

Examples abound. When the government constructed Blantyre Flea Market, vendors refused to get into it. The same applies to the Limbe Flea Market in Limbe, Blantyre.

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One of the Blantyre vendors, Andrew Makiyi-Sande, is quoted in our sister paper, Malawi News of September 2010, as saying that the [Blantyre Flea] market was constructed without consulting vendors.

If anything, only ruling party representatives were consulted, which left others feeling left out.

“To begin with, we had the challenge of space. Not all of us could be accommodated in the new market structure and we wanted all of us to get space in the market, as opposed to a situation where some of us would be operating from a market, paying market fees, while others would be selling their merchandise on the streets, without paying market fees.

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“Again, we wanted fairness. It was felt that it would not be good for some of us to be operating from a good structure, while our friends were being exposed to the scorching sun or winds, depending on seasons. But that did not mean we had problems with the market structure,” Makiyi-Sande said at the time.

But, before the dust could settle, the newly erected market structures were razed down by fire, dousing vendors’ hopes and destroying property worth millions.

Today, it is a surprise that some vendors have risen above the ashes of the fire, recollected themselves, and are now selling merchandise as if nothing ever happened. Such is life.

While the Blantyre Flea Market fire is part of the sad history of market fires, some of the issues that surfaced after it was newly built keep on resurfacing in other parts of the country. For example, the issue of space continues to take centre-stage in deliberations between Local Government officials and vendors, meaning that those responsible for the construction of markets are either stubborn or do not learn from the past.

Maybe that is one of the challenges facing the concept of Local Government, which many speak of on their lips but seldom understand.

But documents on this, otherwise contentious, topic are commonplace, although citizens seem less interested in partaking of their contents.

For example, The Hunger Project, in a report titled ‘Participatory Local Democracy: Gender-focused, Community-led Development For All’, indicates that “Decentralisation in Malawi began in the late 1990s when the government enacted the National Decentralisation Policy. However, the country has faced challenges in implementation and holding local elections”.

It adds that local government consists of four cities, 28 district councils, two municipal councils and one town council. All 35 local authorities are single tier.

“A city council, directly elected by councilors, governs each of the four cities. Of the eight townships, six of them are combined with district assemblies to create district councils; the other two act as municipal councils headed by mayors . Councilors each represent one ward and are elected for a five-year term.

“Traditional leadership is prominent in Malawi. A Group Village Headman is selected by the village headsmen and is responsible for five or more villages. Senior chiefs have authority over all sub-chiefs, and sub-chiefs have authority over the hereditary traditional authority positions. At the national level, the Minister of Local Government and Community Development oversees the administration of local governments and implements the Local Government Act and the National Decentralisation Policy,” reads the report.

However, events in Lunzu, where phase one of a market construction project has just been completed, indicates that days of rumbling could soon be behind us.

This is because Lunzu Trading Centre has undergone a facelift; so that, from the rusty and dusty colonial market has sprouted a furnished, modern market which seems to have pampered Lunzu communities, who, from the look of things, are not intent on getting a bad name after construction of their market.

This means vendors of Lunzu will no longer tussle with mud on a rainy day or dust on a windy day as the first phase of the new market was finished on July 31 this year.

One of the customers, Charles Chitimbe, narrates how the old market posed sanitation challenges to users— both customers and vendors— as unkempt toilets, rugged paths that were muddy and impassable during the rainy season and too dusty during the dry season made life difficult for everyone.

“The old market did not have proper structures. There was no clear demarcation of where the seller and the buyer are supposed to be. The toilets were filthy.

Our hope is that the new market will have proper toilets and structures that will be easily accessed by market users,” Chitimbe says.

Lunzu Market Chairperson, Clemence Masilika Maovololo, says there is no way Lunzu vendors can turn the opportunity to get into the new market down.

“We take pride in the facility,” he says, “this is because the plan for Lunzu Market was designed in consultation with us. Every section has been constructed the way vendors wanted,” Maovololo says.

Local Government and Rural Development Minister, Kondwani Nankhumwa, commends the vendors of Lunzu for being cooperative.

“We discovered a challenge in other market projects as, sometimes, the government did not engage the beneficiaries [vendors]. With Lunzu, the case is different because the beneficiaries were consulted,” Nankhumwa says.

The K338 million-worth first phase of the market has, among other things, seen the market being equipped with 32 kiosks, a refuse dump, a slaughter house, toilet building and a revenue collector’s office.

But the task of constructing a revenue collectors’ office is one thing while that of filling the office’s coffers is something else — more so because the vendors will have to play a part by being steadfast in paying to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

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